The settlement over the beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza outdoor mall marks the start of a fresh and exciting remake of downtown Tampa's Channel District. The deal a judge approved Monday ends years of uncertainty over a struggling destination and breathes new life into the effort to grow the Channel District into a vibrant, mixed-use community. The Port of Tampa should work with Channelside's new operator, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, to create an experience that offers a top-notch urban experience.
A bankruptcy judge approved a settlement Monday in the long-running case that clears the way for the port — which owns the land under Channelside — and Vinik's development group to open a new era for the retail and entertainment complex. The deal ends the ownership role of the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., which foreclosed on the property in 2010, and puts control directly into the hands of the port. Vinik will pay $7.1 million to take over the operation. The port will absorb about $550,000 in default damages and pay an additional $1.35 million to satisfy the loan. The $9 million deal is a fair price for the Irish bank. And it finally puts Channelside under local control.
The port acted responsibly by moving aggressively in recent months to break the impasse. Vinik's concept of a restaurant-retail-hotel mix at Channelside and an adjacent 23 acres he owns would be a good fit for the fast-growing channel district. Board Chairman Stephen Swindal was right to play a more forceful role, given the millions of tax dollars invested throughout the district in parks, shipping terminals, parking and other public works. Turning around Channelside is key to making downtown more attractive and a more appealing place to live, work and play.
Now comes the hard part. Channelside's uninviting facade and the disjointed environment of the Channel District pose many architectural challenges for Vinik. But he has the property to create a master plan for the area and can be a good partner with the port and the city. Channelside has lost valuable time in the recovering economy, but it still has a distinct identity and enviable location. Vinik also is bringing deep pockets to the redevelopment effort.
The settlement will enable all sides to focus on a new vision for Channelside. The port should continue to play a parental role to ensure that Channelside achieves its promise by shaping the look and feel of downtown for the better.